GrantCraft Year in Review

Just like that, 2017 is nearly over. It’s been a year of shifting focus for me, though I sense that theme is true for many. In March, I became Foundation Center’s director of stakeholder engagement—a brand new role inspired by how we have connected you with valuable resources here on GrantCraft—which has allowed us to be more thoughtful than ever about empowering you with data and knowledge that matter. I have personally experienced a lot of TMI this year…I simply can’t consume the vast amounts of media and communications that cross my desk every day. Again, I sense that this is a theme that is true for many, and you might have noticed (or not, amid so much other clutter!) that we went on newsletter hiatus over the past several months. So, consider this email a roundup of things not to miss before the end of the year!

My five favorite GrantCraft resources we developed in 2017:

  • A series on funder collaboratives focused on advocacy—I love this because especially in America this year, I’ve heard increased desire for collaboration in order to advocate for important causes, and a key indicator of success for collaborative advocacy work is how well stakeholders set themselves up to work together. These pieces offer important insights from real-world experiences. This series was authored by Cynthia Gibson.
  • A case study on saving the vaquita—Before our work on, I admittedly had never heard of the vaquita, a rare, and endangered porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California. A few googles and an interview later, I was hooked and in love. I started to hear about their near-extinction everywhere, and have been fascinated to follow philanthropic efforts to save the species ever since. This case study was authored by Anna Pond.
  • Frameworks for Private Foundations leadership series paper—While GrantCraft typically focuses its resources on strategic grantmaking and leveraging funders’ roles, it’s really important to acknowledge how the context of each foundation influences practice. The theory offered in this paper gives a framework for reflection, understanding, and iterating on approaches foundations can take in pursuing their missions. This paper was authored by Melissa Berman, Jason Franklin, and Dara Major.
  • Conversation-sparkers from the EDGE Funders conference—I go to a lot of philanthropy conferences, and this was very different. Activist spaces are exciting, chaotic, uncomfortable, questioning, and courageous. It’s a privilege to add our voice and perspective to these conversations in ways that hopefully push the practice of philanthropy forward. These resources were authored by me, Jen Bokoff.
  • Blog series on funding innovation—It’s easy to support ideas that are tried and true, but a little harder to proactively solicit and fund proposals that are truly innovative. This blog series highlights various approaches to finding fundable, innovative solutions. With each post, I was also inspired to think about my own work in more outside-the-box ways.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. We had great posts by philanthropy leaders like Shannon Farley, Treye Johnson, Carla López, Mariella Puerto, Pearl Mattenson and Sara Allen, and Ed Cain, and got to present exciting workshops with exciting people. We also amplified and championed our Foundation Center colleagues’ efforts like the global philanthropy data charter, community foundation dashboard, and research on black male achievement to create a more connected sector.

But, as my team is now quick to poke fun of, all of this makes me ask “SO WHAT?” As I have vented to many colleagues and friends, is philanthropy communication perhaps a little too surface-level and self-congratulatory to meaningfully move mountains? And do we feed into redundant discourse and “preaching to the choir” to far too deep an extent? And do new resources sourced from the practical wisdom and experience of funders actually inform and build capacity for sound judgement as I like to think?

Here’s the “so what” for GrantCraft: at truly every funder-centric event I participate in, someone finds me to say how much GrantCraft has influenced the way they think about their work. They point to us as their go-to, trusted resource that helps them feel connected to broader learning and that also validates some of their own instincts. This is heartening; we’re not contributing to information overload, but rather to the positive noise that funders can make in the world.

Our work with GrantCraft is hopefully emblematic of what we’re doing more broadly at Foundation Center. For example, we kicked off the #OpenForGood campaign to encourage foundations to openly share their evaluation knowledge with IssueLab and Glasspockets this year. In 2018, we’ll take what they’re hearing from the field and publish a new GrantCraft guide on the topic. Other pockets of the organization are working on machine learning, knowledge management, nonprofit training, and website development; we do this to push the potential of this field forward.

Take some time off this December—self care is always important, especially in this work—and when you come back, we hope you’ll start the year off by reading through some of our great resources that you may have missed this year. And, we love hearing from you! Please e-mail anytime, and drop by if you’ll be in New York.

This letter originally appeared in this week's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free

About the author(s)

Director of Stakeholder Engagement